French is a Romance language spoken by about 338 million people. It is the third most spoken language in Europe, after German and English, and is also spoken in parts of Africa, North America, South America, Asia and Oceania.
French is an official language in Belgium, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Guinea, Haiti, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mali, Monaco, Niger, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Switzerland, Togo, and Vanuatu.
There are also French speakers in Algeria, Cambodia, Laos, Lebanon, Morocco, Mauritius, Mauritania, Tunisia, Vietnam, French Guiana, French Polynesia, Guadeloupe, Guernsey, Jersey, Martinique, Mayotte, New Caledonia, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, Vietnam, Wallis and Futuna, and in parts of the USA, particularly Louisiana.
French was widely used as a diplomatic language from the 17th century until the middle of the 20th century, when English replaced it in that role. It is still used in many international organisations, such as NATO, the UN, EU institutions, and the World Trade Organisation.
French first appeared in writing in 842 AD when it was used in the Strasbourg Oaths. Before then Latin, was the language used for literature throughout Europe. During the 10th, and 11th centuries, French appeared in a number of documents and religious, writings, but French literature didn’t start to take off until the late, 12th / early 13th century. The first great work of French literature, was the ‘Chanson de Roland’ (Song of Roland), which was published, in about 1200.